Understanding Unlimited Web Hosting

We have all seen the advertisement. Unlimited Web Hosting. For a few dollars a month you get everything. It sounds great, right?

What are Unlimited Hosting Plans Really Offering?

Unlimited disk space and unlimited bandwidth are the two things generally covered by unlimited plans. You sometimes see other things such as email accounts, mysql databases, and more; but that's not very important for this article because they are dependent on disk space.

Does this sound too good to be true?

There is no such thing as an unlimited size disk drive and no network connection with unlimited speed (and therefore bandwidth). There are physical constraints, hard drives are a certain size and network connections only go so fast. So in a sense, it is too good to be true. Most of these companies are overselling their services. That means they know how many resources an average customer uses and puts as many customers as they can on a single server to minimize costs. The reality is that most customers use very few resources. For the customers that do use a lot of resources, they hide limits in the terms of service.

Common Limits Hidden in Terms of Service:

  •  iNode limitations – This is the number of files you can have on your server. Unlimited disk space, but limited number of files.
  •  CPU limitations – Hosts generally say you can't use more than your fair share of the CPU. If your site gets a substantial amount of traffic, it is likely that the CPU usage will be dramatically higher too and they will pull the plug or ask you to pay more.
  •  Memory limitations – This is similar to CPU limitations, when you get a lot of visitors, your website will generally increase memory (RAM) usage.
  •  Content Restrictions – Hosts often disallow file hosting, backups and many other types of content. File hosting is a pretty ambiguous term because everything on the server is a file.
  •  Suspend you for any reason – This is a catch-all for unprofitable customers. Using too much of their resources? Goodbye.

Are All Unlimited Hosts Bad Then?

No. They vary like any other type of company. Some are better than others. If you plan on using a lot of resources though, you will probably be kicked off or asked to upgrade, generally to a VPS which dedicates resources specifically to your website.

Just be aware unlimited does have limitations, but they are really designed to keep the users who would use unlimited resources out. Most customers don't fit that profile. But once you've decided you're not really going to need unlimited resources, it's worth comparing web hosts on other dimensions.

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Kevin Ohashi is the geek-in-charge at Review Signal. He is passionate about making data meaningful for consumers. Kevin is based in Washington, DC.

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